Power Conflict and Control in Australian Trade Unions
Penguin, $9.95 pb, 320 pp
Kathryn Cole’s book sets out by means of thirteen contributions to evaluate ‘two assertions about trade unions (which) are pervasive’. These are that they are very or too powerful, and that they are usually the aggressors in industrial disputes. Its conclusion is that unions are more sinned against than sinning, or, to paraphrase the words of Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited describing Lady Marchmain, ‘they are saintly without being saints’.
This conclusion results from an argument that runs like this. The media is inevitably against trade unions, and unions do not know how to use the media (‘few unions have the funds to communicate regularly with their own members, let alone the public at large’). Secondly, ‘conflict is intrinsic to capitalist industrial societies’, because ‘the primary objective of employers is to harvest the maximum possible return’. So unions could not possibly be the aggressors. (What are they after?)